What happened next was a blur, the cycle had gone under our rover and exploded. We were thrown, rover flipping, my body had slammed back inside and was being tossed around the interior.
I came to a few minutes later, the rover upside down, the driver still strapped to his seat but dead, blood dripping from a gruesome headwound.
I remember the agony, I remember the burning, I remember pulling myself free from the wreckage with a broken arm and cracked ribs. My armor searing hot against my flesh.
I could see the dust from the two rigs and remaining rover fading in the distance. They weren't going to come back for me, I was dead for all they knew. I crawled away from the wreckage in case it blew. I needed to get back to base. The shock was starting to wear off and my arm was screaming at me, my ribs stabbing with every breath.
I forced myself to my feet, I needed a ride. Most of the cycles had been destroyed but there was one that could maybe run. I stumbled back the way we'd come, through the smoldering remains of destroyed vehicles and dead raiders.
After what felt like an eternity, I found the one cycle that hadn't been obliterated and pulled it upright, almost blacking out from the pain. One side had been scraped to hell, there was extensive damage, but it seemed like the engine was mostly intact and both tires had held out. I managed to climb on and start it after several attempts.
The ride back to base is a blur in my memory, I can only recall desperately clinging to consciousness, the pain both keeping me awake and dragging me down to black bliss.
I made it back somehow, they patched me up and I reported to the CO. Both rigs had survived but I was sentenced to a week in isolation, as were the other remaining Guardians, for allowing the incident to happen and for the losses of two rovers, two drivers and five Guardians.
It would have been longer, but I'd personally killed three of the raiders which earned me some favor, mostly healing.
I embraced it, it let my ribs and arm start to heal, I didn't have to wear armor over my burns, and I could catch my breath. It was in a dark freezing pit, deep underground, but I could bear it.
I was fourteen.